When Michael Phelps wore SOL Republic headphones practically everywhere but in the pool at the 2012 Olympics, the young audio brand gained some national notoriety. SOL Republic’s early models, like the Tracks, focused on big bass at a reasonable price—and a unique headband. With the Master Tracks, we see SOL Republic venturing into more expensive territory. At $199.99 (direct), the Master Tracks are twice the price of SOL’s debut headphones, but they follow a similar path in terms of bass response and design. The earcups are fully removable from the headband, and the audio cable is replaceable, as well. This allows for a customizable look, and more value for your dollar, should the cable need to be replaced down the road.
From a design standpoint, the Master Tracks set themselves apart with their aforementioned removable headband and cable. Headbands and cables are going to be offered in blue and white (coming soon), so the look is somewhat customizable, though our uniformly gun metal gray model had a very nice look to it without swapping out anything.
The SOL logo graces each ear, while the words SOL Republic are branded into the soft leather across the top of the headband. Overall, this is a very handsome pair of headphones, with the soft leather surfaces adding a touch of luxury.
Another thing the Master Tracks absolutely nail is comfort: The circumaural (over-ear) pads are extremely plush and lightweight, and the headband has a nice amount of padding on the underside as well. It holds up well over long listening sessions, though the earpads can get a bit hot after a while.
SOL Republic claims the headbands are made of a virtually indestructible advanced polymer compound (called FlexTech), so the headband, at the very least, should withstand heavy abuse—but this claim doesn’t extend to the drivers.
The included cable features an inline microphone and remote for mobile devices. Call clarity is about what you’d expect—nothing spectacular, but the earpads block out a good amount of ambient noise and the mic is well placed, so you and your call partners should always understand each other without a problem.
A black, water resistant zip-up carrying pouch is included, and like the headphones, it prominently features the SOL logo.
The sonic focus here is clearly on low frequency content. Songs with serious sub-bass frequencies, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” are reproduced with thunderous lows and are distortion-free—even at top volumes. The Master Tracks produce a lot of vibration on deep bass at high volumes, however, so while there’s no distortion, it can sometimes feel as if the headphones might dance right off your skull. This only seems to occur at near-maximum volume, which is not a safe listening level anyway.
At more moderate to high volumes, the deep bass is delivered cleanly and without the threat of leaping from your head. While the sub-bass frequencies are represented healthily here, they’re not so overly boosted as to sound ridiculous—it’s more as if the entire low frequency range, from subwoofer-territory up through the low-mids, has a generous boost applied to it.
Compared with the SMS Audio Street by 50 DJ, the Master Tracks deliver slightly less boosted deep bass, but also pair it with a less sculpted high frequency range. While they don’t sound muddy, the Master Tracks could benefit from a little more high frequency definition—when you boost the bass this much, you need to boost the high-mids and highs to retain definition and the edge of transients that shape the mix.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the low-end is not over-the-top, which is a good thing. The drumming in the background can sometimes sound like it is the centerpiece of the song on pairs with too much bass boost, which doesn’t quite occur here. However, Callahan’s vocals are missing some of the treble edge that would help them stand out a bit more in this mix—things aren’t muddy, but the crispness you want to hear on his vocals, or the snap of drum, are a bit dulled.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the deep bass synth hits underneath the drum loop have a nice, smooth delivery to them without grabbing all the attention. The vocals and the attack of the kick drum loop, however, could again use a little more high-mid/high frequency presence. Things are always intelligible and distortion-free, but the spectrum here leans enough in the favor of the lows and low-mids that you wish there were a bit more crispness in the highs to counterbalance things.
Classical music sounds much more balanced on the Master Tracks, primarily because, if you’re not a purist, classical tracks receive added bass response well (in moderation, at least), and rarely does this make things muddy. The lack of reciprocal boost in the high-mids and highs is not an issue here—the recording already gives a hefty advantage to the higher register strings, as well as the sharp attack of drums and plucked strings. Since the low-frequency boost seems to be focused on the entire low range, and not just on sub-bass, the end effect on the lower register strings and brass is a smooth, subtle addition of depth. The big drum hits pack a nice roundness to them without things ever sounding unnatural.
If you’re looking for a truly thunderous, deep bass sound, you have several options in this era of big bass headphones. The recent Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 rings up for the same price, and packs quite a hefty punch, while the aforementioned SMS Audio Street by 50 DJ is another formidable bass threat. If what you’re really looking for is a more balanced, slightly crisper sound, however, we love the recent Yamaha PRO 300. And for a little less, the well-balanced Editors’ Choice Sennheiser HD 558 performs at a level beyond its lower price.
The SOL Republic Master Tracks are a bit of a conundrum, delivering clean audio with big bass, but lacking some of the high-mid definition that really makes boosted bass exciting. The removable headband and cable, as while as inline mic and remote, add value to the $200 price tag, and the Master Tracks are definitely worthy of your interest, but both bass lovers and purists have plenty of options to consider in this price range.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc